Chris McDonnell: Switch on the light
Switch on the light
Chris McDonnell May 20th 2022, La Croix International
When it gets dark, we presume that somewhere in the room there is a switch that will give us light. Darkness is an inconvenience that can now be managed.
That is only a relatively recent occurrence. For many thousands of years, the onset of darkness severely limited any purposeful activity that is, until oil lamps and candles gave some modest light in a darkened home. We have found many examples of simple Roman pottery lamps that contained oil and a wick that gave light to a room enabling some useful activity to continue beyond sunset.
In a different context, we still have to manage the hours of darkness that we all experience now and then, hours that are short lived and passing or other periods that seem endless. We presume on the good times and get caught out when circumstances suddenly change. It wasn’t for nothing that John of the Cross spoke of ‘the dark night of the soul,’ for he spoke from experience. Our faith is a fragile thing, something that we often casually accept as part of the baggage of our lives, something we presume on until the oil that lights our lamp burns low and the flame begins to flicker and fade, and the shadows lengthen.
Faith, like the oil lamp, requires fuel if it is to continue to have life. In the hours of darkness, we require resources that we can draw on, resources that will see us through the difficult times, see us through to the dawn of a new day. Even prayer can seem empty when we reach that lonely place. When others say they will remember you in their prayers that is a lifeline offered in time of need and their prayer is yours.
How must faith be challenged in time of war, when all about is in a state of chaotic disorder, when pain and suffering are on the street corner and the wreckage of life lies in a disheveled heap on the pavement.
Their story is told in words and images with each news bulletin we watch, with every sentence we frame. I wrote the words that follow a few days ago, after yet more graphic scenes from Ukraine.
A story told
Just wait a while longer
and see what happens,
another news story
reporting another killing.
Images of violence and
blackened burnt-out trucks
lodged askew in congested roads
facing the shattered tower block frontage
of desecrated, hollowed homes
draped with torn, wind-blown curtains.
Media words reflect the scene
as helmeted figures, with PRESS
printed in white across flak protected chests,
take risks of incoming metal fire or loose
flying shrapnel telling the now familiar
tale of pain in a flat monochrome of words.
Political moves are made that might raise
the threat of overwhelming response
as day passes through into night
and orange sun is replaced by orange
flash of exploding shell, killing a
family or two here, or over there
beyond the garden wall, a lost generation,
leaving only an infirm, stumbling grandma
huddled under a tattered blue shawl, searching
the ruined home with her wandering stick.
Day lost in the ever-increasing cover
of siren-taunted night and the distant
crying of a young child, hungry, cold
and scared, cuddled for comfort.
Nursing unfamiliar weapons, a make-
shift conscript runs, bent double, fires
then flattens on the soil-stoned ground,
seeking cover by the low concrete wall,
gasping for air in the urgency
of the moment of casual conflict.
Worn words exchanged round tables offer
little hope, as the written map changes
colour and new lines are drawn
while TV news describes the scene.
Covered in confusion, men at microphones
utter belligerent phrases, seeking to make
their case for continued struggle
to achieve a just solution.
Lost in a nightmare of discordant dreams
waiting for silence to return with daybreak.
Maybe the coffee house will open or
the supermarket raise its metal shutters
with a smile this Friday morning and cash tills
ring as trams replace tracked tanks.
May our prayers sustain their hours of darkness, bring relief when hope is almost gone. Peace of mind, of heart and soul, is a precious gift. May we take care of it and constantly renew the fuel that lights the flame of faith.